Bound, blindfolded, gagged and held in a cupboard for 9 days

Greek shipping magnate in kidnap ordeal
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The Independent Online
JASON BENNETTO

WILL BENNETT

and LOUISE JURY

A Greek shipping magnate, who was drugged and locked in a cupboard by kidnappers for nine days, was freed by the police following an undercover operation in which four men were arrested, it was revealed yesterday.

George Fraghistas, 43, the director of two ship-management companies, yesterday described his ordeal in which his captors are believed to have demanded a ransom of up to pounds 10m.

However, there was speculation last night that the kidnapper's may have mistaken Mr Fraghistas, who is a member of a ship-owning family, for his multi-millionaire cousin, also called George Fraghistas.

Mr Fraghistas appeared severely shaken but surprisingly healthy at a news conference yesterday, despite having been handcuffed, blindfolded and forced to wear ear plugs while in the 6ft by 3ft cupboard in a house in Paddington, north-west London.

The police are believed to have located the suspected kidnappers after tracing their calls made on mobile telephones to Mr Fraghistas's family in London and Athens.

Mr Fraghistas was kidnapped at 6.20pm on Sunday 24 March after he parked his car in Lanark Road, Maida Vale, and began walking to his home across the road. Four men bundled him into the boot of a car and drove him a short distance to a rented house at 5 Hogan Mews.

Throughout his nine days in the cupboard, which had just a chair in it, Mr Fraghistas, who is single, had a mask placed over his head. He was made to take tranquillisers and his kidnappers threatened to kill him.

For the first four days he only drank water, but later ate food including Kentucky Fried Chicken. During his captivity he lost about a stone in weight.

Thirty-six hours after his abduction, his kidnappers telephoned his family in Athens and demanded a multi-million pound ransom. They immediately went to the police and Scotland Yard's Specialist Operations Department were contacted. Several members of Mr Fraghistas's family, including his mother, travelled to London to continue the negotiations in more than 50 calls from the kidnappers.

Mr Fraghistas was forced to make tape recordings which were played over the telephone to his family.

As negotiations continued, officers from the Metropolitan Police's Organised Crime Group and the Directorate of Intelligence mounted a surveillance and undercover operation involving more than 100 officers.

Late on Tuesday night police arrested two men in a car in Golders Green, north-west London, as they were making a ransom demand. Two other men were arrested shortly afterwards, one outside the house at Hogan Mews and one inside. Mr Fraghistas was found, still locked up, in a state of shock and extremely distressed. He had bruising and grazes to his wrists, but did not need hospital treatment. At least five guns were recovered from the house.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Fraghistas trembled as he said: "This has been a terrifying ordeal for me and my family. I feared for my safety and wondered if I would ever be freed. I am grateful to the Metropolitan Police service for my release." He added: "It is very difficult. I am not in a position to really be able to describe the things that happened. I am still in shock."

Mr Fraghistas, whose brother Nicholas and father Achilles also own shipping companies, is British-educated and has lived and worked in London for several years. He is a director of two companies which manage eight ships, including oil tankers. He was a member of Greece's Millionaire's Club in Piraeus, which is a reference to the tonnage of their fleet rather than their bank balances.

His principal company is World Carrier London which has offices in Mayfair, central London, and a subsidiary called World Carrier Management.

Shopkeepers and other residents in the street where he lives, off the busy main Maida Vale thoroughfare, described Mr Fraghistas as a quiet man, always smartly dressed and driven everywhere in a black Lexus car by his chauffeur.

He has lived in his four-storey home, with intercom at the front gate and goldfish pond and tidily-kept garden at the rear, for several years.

Four men were charged in connection with the kidnapping last night and are due to appear at Horseferry Road Magistrates' Court in London today.

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